Marta Guisande: Repose in Motion

The Dialectics in the Paintings of Marta Guisande


Her canvases are dry, reserved, quietly colorful, even delicate. No object holds your gaze; it remains in motion and hovers slowly above the picture plane. Eyes circle like a hawk at the sight of its prey; they look, fix, wait and watch, lock onto, only to plunge suddenly along the line of sight and pounce. Paintings like gray soil, like brown turf, sometimes like a brown bird.


The substances that make up the pictorial world of Marta Guisande are reminiscent of earthern matter. They reflect the world of minerals, to a large extent ambiences of brown, gray, black and white. Here and there more potent colors are also reflected. But they hang back. "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?", one would like to ask with Barnett Newman's painting in mind. But the idea goes nowhere.


No glitz radiates from these paintings. And few traces of oil. Here paint made of egg tempera, casein or acrylic dominates. The fact that it dries very quickly triggers nimble workmanship. Ever since in Europe in the 1960s acrylic paint continued to be developed for the fine arts, many modern painters have favored this medium. It is an industrially made product. According to the room temperature, the humidity and the nature of the undercoat, it can be mixed in a twinkling with other paint mediums or-when these dry in several minutes to a firm substance-be painted over. With this material, quite different pictures emerge than with cumbersome oils. The much lighter acrylic reacts faster. Properly handled, it gains in transparency.


Marta Guisande paints spontaneously and rapidly. Her way of working corresponds to the mobility of this paint in appearance and effect. From out of these two-material and rapid application-her painted world emerges. However, the required high tempo finds its counterpart in pauses for respite: reservations, waiting, doubt. Perplexity. Her way of painting is dialectically tied in with contrasts: light-dark, fast and slow, open and closed, geometric and biomorphic, mind and matter... Contrasts that seem like polarities and thus liberate innate protestation. This is what distinguishes the dynamism of her oeuvre.


At first the artist reacts spontaneously to the canvas, almost, it seems, actionistically. Yet each of her movements comes to rest. The at times gestural flow of paint is always accompanied by reflection, which however needs the moment in which the momentum arrives at a standstill. Guisande is clever enough to wait till the act of painting phases out before she intervenes with her second thoughts. Concentration halts the courageous expressiveness. That which exploded becomes grounded. In the end, the single act, like the stimulation, is quietly integrated into the whole. The poles, in this way, become clear-cut; their interaction evokes a repose in motion.


The deflation does not come about on its own. Again and again the processes are repeated. In her work before the canvas the artist is forced to go inwards and out again in quite rhythmic movements. Reflection and doubt stand between these phases. The bold momentum of getting on with applying the paint always goes back to questioning and searching. The painting goes through phases of uncertainty. A lot of time and reservations, a lot of standstill and perplexity form on the canvas. Guisande's choice of colors, her clear brushstrokes, repeatedly set down surprising forms that must subsequently hold their ground against a judgment that is just as skeptical as it is reflective. Along with doubt, also despair often enough sets in. The corrections escalate in a world of their own. For some time now, it has no longer only been about retouching and the transparent layering of what was originally set off and set down. Some forms seem to butt up against a compelling inner ‘no' that results in aggressive blotting out, scratching out, even rejection and destruction. The artist can carry this so far as to injure the canvas. New coats of paint are laid over each other. Here a delicate trace wafts over the base coat. There transparent paint changes to opaque planes.


The artist's daily routine and reality: her paintings grow in time, and acceptance and deletion are part of her nature. Sometimes the colors of the wet paint get lost on a not-yet-dry ground; sometimes they collide harshly with one another-like immovable objects. But then a veil spreads over the whole, burying all anxiety underneath it, and upholds the painting in the atmosphere-until it mysteriously drowns in monochromism. These then are the last phases in which the paintings are consolidated, saturated and assimilated in tangible serenity.


Eventually Marta Guisande's paintings, with a profound logic, relate to their own distinctiveness, to their own quiet world. The vaunted charisma of these works brings many antagonisms together and then suspends them in an enthralling form. Her painting has a soothing effect on the viewer, which many may find ‘beautiful', but that goes far beyond mere liking. These paintings acquire their effervescence from a ‘composed' serenity that wants to be won in a hard-earned, sometimes painful process.


As non-figurative as these works are, they thrive all the more from the course of the painting process that they react to. They are works that open up no autonomous color worlds. It is not immaculateness that triumphs here, that overcomes individuality; here the traces of the artist's personal contention and struggle show up in her unmistakable handwriting. The dialectical process that is brought to bear here thrives on building up and tearing down; it is proof of skillful brushwork just as much as of a destructive assault on the coats of paint. In its wake, the color zones are separated, furrowed and broken. Thus the works go from painting and back into drawing. In large gestures these lines are thrown onto the paint, sometimes more ‘built' than drawn.


Under intense examination, the paintings reveal a differentiated level of tension. Sometimes they have a geometric and sometimes a biomorphic character. Here the constructed axes run in vertical and horizontal directions; there they tend slightly to the diagonal. These lines throw out a visual web that is characteristic of this artist's canvases. They are all linked to a tendency towards the center, and, at the same time, to a dynamism from down to up. Although these lines are only forms that do not intend to portray anything, they remind us at times of plants in nature. And yet they depict nothing more than scaffolding, the framework of painting. From the beginning, Marta Guisande attempts to eliminate all associations. Yet in the end remains tolerant of the viewer's imagination, especially when it comes close to conjuring landscapes and nature from a distance.


With all the pathos and emotions that may have gone into them, these mood-setting paintings in fact derive from geometric and logical constructions. They are bound to rational grids; dialectic reasoning generates them. A fact that may be owed to the artist's Spanish origin. She can immerse herself in the landscape of her homeland and its colors, which arise from her memory in gray, brown, black, blue and white hues.


These colors may indeed be the start of it all; spontaneously occupying the canvas, they quickly let themselves be absorbed into the framework. The lines then extend like a grid over the picture plane, unite with the colors and draw them into the dramaturgy of a single moment. The painting's inner framework stands; the colors hang from it. Soon new phases begin. After a chaotic departure from temperament and explosion, the framework loses its hold on gravity: the actual birth of the picture. Lines and bars are eliminated; the painting finds an inner hold. It floats and swings and circles; slowly, ever more slowly, until it perhaps even hangs in the air for a moment in time: the color with the rest of the framework. Like a brown leaf that gradually sails back to earth, almost as if it wanted to plant its stem in the earth from which it came. A painting afloat both in motion and in repose, via a cross-fertilization between colors and lines, in the midst of a transfiguring environment.


Friedhelm Mennekes


From the German by Jeanne Haunschild